CPS Energy uses a college student for weather forecasting. That’s not how other major Texas utilities operate.

San Antonio’s CPS Energy claims weather contractor has meteorology degree; UIW says he’s still a current student

SAN ANTONIO – When Bob Rose sat down to testify before the Texas Legislature last week, members of the Senate Committee on Business & Commerce were hearing from a licensed meteorologist with more than four decades of experience.

Rose, the chief meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), described in great detail to state senators for more than 45 minutes how multiple waves of arctic wind last month had brought historic cold to Texas.

He also walked through the steps he took to make sure LCRA was aware of what was bearing down on the state and its energy infrastructure.

“Management was very aware. I communicated through email to a large segment of our organization,” said Rose.

State Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, at one point told Rose he assumed the state’s utility companies and retail energy providers all have meteorologists like Rose on staff.

But an investigation by the KSAT Defenders confirms that’s not the case in San Antonio.

CPS Energy officials confirm to KSAT that they get their meteorology services from a Minnesota-based subscription weather service and from a local contractor, who has been referred to as both a meteorologist data intern and a meteorologist data analyst.

Public records show the local contractor has been a meteorology student, rather than a meteorologist, much of the time he has provided services to CPS.

The local contractor refers to himself on one social media platform as “Kid Cold Front.”

It remains unclear, however, whether he even has a degree in meteorology.

CPS spokesman John Moreno told the Defenders late last week the contractor graduated from the University of the Incarnate Word in December with a degree in meteorology.

But after the KSAT 12 Defenders inquired about his college credentials, a UIW spokesperson informed this reporter Friday that the contractor is still a student in the School of Mathematics, Science and Engineering, and is not listed as a graduate.

The university spokesman declined to release additional details about the man’s academic record, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

His name appears in a UIW virtual commencement program posted on the university’s website.

KSAT 12 is not naming the local weather contractor to avoid potential personal backlash against him as the questions about his position lie with CPS Energy, which provides power to more than 850,000 homes and businesses in the San Antonio area.

Multiple representatives from CPS Energy have pushed back on the notion that they were ill-equipped to forecast storms.

But even with a degree in meteorology, the contractor’s experience puts him well behind meteorologists employed by other major energy providers in Texas.

Oncor, which supplies energy to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and parts of West Texas, employs a full-time meteorologist with well over a decade of experience.

The LinkedIn page of Oncor meteorologist Jen Myers indicates she has worked in the meteorology field since 2010, most recently at the Fox television affiliate in Dallas.

Officials for CenterPoint Energy, which delivers power to much of the Greater-Houston area, told the Defenders via email it uses an outside company for meteorology services.

The company’s emergency operations coordinator, however, has a degree in operational meteorology.

That employee, Bert Sausse, has also served as a weather officer with the Texas Air National Guard since 2009, his LinkedIn profile shows.

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Gold-Williams not made available for an interview

A 2018 article written by a CPS corporate communications staffer states that CPS has “a dedicated team of employees that keeps an eye on the skies.”

But nearly two weeks after the Defenders first requested information on the utility’s meteorology services, multiple CPS representatives have yet to provide a list of who these employees are.

Utility officials declined multiple requests to make CPS President & CEO Paula Gold-Williams available for an interview.

However, Gold-Williams told San Antonio City Council members on Feb. 17 — while hundreds of thousands of CPS Energy customers were still experiencing power outages — that information on how the utility would get through the storm kept changing.

“I think when we first saw that there was going to be extreme, bad weather coming through, the thought was that Monday would be the worst day and that potentially we would be coming out of it. But, of course, we all know that is not the case,” Gold-Williams said during the special council meeting.

This week, during a board meeting on Monday, CPS employees Frank Almaraz and Paul Barham, both members of the company’s senior leadership team, gave a presentation on the impact of the prolonged period of sub-freezing temperatures and the company’s efforts to weatherize some of its equipment.

The word “forecast” was used three times during the presentation but the words “meteorologist” and “meteorology” were not used at all, according to a transcript of the board meeting compiled by KSAT.

While Almaraz has a background in finance and industrial distribution and Barham has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering and is a registered professional engineer, neither appears to have a background in meteorology.

Multiple representatives with CPS Energy have pushed back on this story topic in recent days, claiming the use of the contractor and DTN, the Minnesota-based weather services company, do not give the whole picture of how the utility receives its weather reports.

Moreno said last week the utility also uses public sources like the National Weather Service Austin/San Antonio and local newscasts.

But who was providing what specific weather information to CPS leaders in the days leading up to the storm remains unclear.

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A CPS Energy vehicle. (KSAT)

DTN’s vice president of weather operations, Renny Vandewege, told the Defenders via telephone Friday CPS uses a customized version of the company’s weather platform, WeatherSentry.

The platform, according to Vandewege, includes services like a 14-day forecast and mapping for severe weather events like lightning, snowfall and ice.

And while DTN employs a significant number of meteorologists, Vandewege did not know if communication between DTN and CPS increased as the storm approached Texas.

Vandewege did say it was highly unlikely a DTN staff member would have spoken to CPS’ weather contractor between Feb. 9 and Feb. 15, but it is possible he used some of their programs during the lead up to the storm.

The Defenders have requested a copy of all communication between CPS and DTN as well as all communication between CPS and its weather contractor prior to the storm arriving and through its duration under open record laws.

CPS officials have so far not responded and have until late next week to release the records or seek a ruling from the Texas Attorney General’s Office under state law.

The Defenders have also requested a copy of all invoices paid to DTN and the contractor since each became associated with the utility.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.

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